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The next item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S4M-15486, in the name of Graeme Pearson, on support for families affected by murder and culpable homicide. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.
That the Parliament recognises the work of organisations such as the Moira Fund and PETAL in supporting people who have experienced the deaths of family members through murder and culpable homicide; further recognises the work of family liaison officers, Victim Support Scotland and Victim Information and Advice in helping victims of crime; believes however that there can be gaps in provision as victims’ families are passed from one organisation to another; considers that one-to-one support, such as that offered in England by Victim Support’s Homicide Service has greatly improved the support available to families by providing help in dealing with official agencies, arranging funerals, liaising with court officials, arranging counselling and providing ongoing support, and notes the view that families affected by such crimes in South Scotland and across the country would greatly benefit if a similar dedicated support service was established in Scotland.
I am grateful to the Parliament for giving me the opportunity to speak to the motion in support of families who are affected by murder and culpable homicide. I thank colleagues from all parties in the Parliament who supported the motion, which gives us a worthwhile opportunity to vent some of the issues for those who are affected by homicide.
Those issues affect a surprising number of people across Scotland. This morning, before coming to the chamber, I checked the statistics and found that, in the 10 years from 2005 to 2015, there were 887 victims of murder and homicide across Scotland. Therefore, many families in Scotland have unfortunately had to face the trauma and upset of receiving police officers at their homes to tell them that they have lost a family member.
Many public agencies and staff have been involved in supporting those families—obviously, the police family liaison officers and Victim Support Scotland do that work—as do public agencies such as the social work services, local authorities and the victim information and advice service and so on. However, a great deal of work has been done on all our behalf by charity groups, particularly by Petal Support, which has been based at Hamilton for well over two decades, and more recently by the Moira Fund, which has done a great deal of work in supporting those families who face such difficulties.
Much has been said over previous years about too many agencies having to pass clients between them because of how the system works. The clients may first be involved with the police before then being passed on to the procurator fiscal service. The victim information and advice service and Victim Support Scotland may then be involved alongside police family liaison services.
The families, who are facing trauma and emotional demands, are ill-prepared to deal with the demands from officials for necessary responses on registering a death and dealing with insurance companies and so on.
In England and Wales, Victim Support created a homicide service. I must admit that, even having had more than three decades of experience in such work, it had passed me by how some families who are affected by homicide and in dire economic circumstances deal with funeral expenses at the time that they face the trauma. The truth is that, very often, they deal with the situation badly.
In some cases, families are lucky enough to have communities that gather together funds and pass them on in order that they can bury their loved ones with dignity. In other circumstances, extended family members collect together funds and provide support. In England and Wales, families who are in dire economic circumstances can approach the Moira Fund and other voluntary agencies. Although they are not in receipt of huge financial support from Governments, they find the means to gather together money to assist families as and when they require it.
It dawned on me that it should not be left to charities to try and find the money when members of our communities face such dire circumstances. It is not beyond our wit to come together and to find the means to help with arranging funerals and, in the short term, financing them to allow burials to be done with some dignity and covering people’s travelling expenses when they are required to attend the necessary related activities.
In many circumstances, the families may well find that, in the longer-term, insurance companies come forward. In some circumstances and after some months, the families may even be able to save the money themselves in order to pay the many expenses that I am talking about.
My suggestion to Parliament is that, when a family faces the trauma of losing a loved one, worrying about the economic impacts should be the furthest thing from their minds. We should find a way of taking away the burden that they face.
Over the past year, I have spoken to people in Victim Support about the notion of extending its services. By no means am I saying that the numbers have been appropriately audited, but Victim Support has estimated that in the past year 59 families might have been considered for support. Many families—thankfully—are financially secure and do not need the support. Therefore, no more than £1 million a year would be needed in order to offer the whole range of services that might be required for the number of families—fewer than 59 families to begin with—that we are talking about.
That would provide not only the things that I have spoken about, but the counselling that some families require during and after the court process; support during appeals processes, which is important because the families are often overlooked and forgotten; and support in the longer term when, after many years, families receive letters through the post to tell them that the people who were convicted of homicide or murder are going through parole processes.
Victim Support Scotland estimates that to cover that range of services would cost about £1 million. It is right for us as a Parliament to seek to provide that support, and I invite the minister to consider the implications and look to initiate a broader service.
I also invite the Government to think about unifying the victim support services. At present, we have Victim Support Scotland and a separate victim information and advice service. Unifying them would allow, without any additional allocation of budgets, seamless service provision for victims and their families.
I am grateful for the opportunity for members to express their views on this important subject.
I thank Graeme Pearson for bringing the subject to the chamber for debate. I read his motion, although I did not sign it. In his speech, he only really talked about the motion at the end. I absolutely agree with what he said in the rest of his speech. I know that he has vast experience of the matter, and he opened our eyes to what families have to endure, and particularly the economic burden.
As I said, I very much agree with most of what Graeme Pearson said, but I am not so sure about the motion. In the Justice Committee, of which I am a member, we have done a lot of work over the years—for example, in our consideration of the Victims and Witnesses (Scotland) Bill in 2014 and, more recently, the Victims’ Rights (Scotland) Regulations 2015—to improve the support that is provided by various organisations within our justice system.
I agree that, for too long, victims have been treated as and made to feel like bystanders in the criminal justice system, but the recent changes that we all voted on in the Parliament will see more consideration given to the rights and needs of not only victims but witnesses of crime. It is important to realise that witnesses need support, too, and the Government’s new legislation, which the Parliament voted for, will improve those people’s experience in the system. The rights of victims and their families is always at the heart of everything that we do in the Justice Committee.
I am sure that the Minister for Community Safety and Legal Affairs will talk about the recent launch of the victims code for Scotland. The code is great news and it has been applauded by Victim Support Scotland. It is a move in the right direction, and I know that Victim Support Scotland is also delighted with the support for services for young victims and witnesses of crime. The victims code for Scotland sets out the rights of victims of crime and who to contact for help and advice. Those rights have been put in place through the Victims and Witnesses (Scotland) Act 2014 and the Victims’ Rights (Scotland) Regulations 2015. People can find the code and the information that it contains online.
Susan Gallagher, acting chief executive of Victim Support Scotland said that the new code is an important step. She said:
“VSS warmly welcomes the introduction of the victims code. Victims and witnesses now have access to information which highlights what their legal rights are in the aftermath of crime. It is a huge step forward on the journey to ensuring victims have a role in the Criminal Justice System in Scotland.”
We want to continue on the journey that we are on. I agree with a lot of what Victim Support Scotland said, and particularly its comment that
“There is still a long way to go before victims are at the heart of the Criminal Justice System but the code provides us that step closer.”
It is a question of taking that first step.
I would like to talk about the many family liaison officers of Police Scotland who are doing a fantastic job. Family liaison officers have multiple roles and they must have the expertise and skills to manage those. We have to thank them for that. We also have many third sector organisations providing valuable support.
When we discussed the Community Justice (Scotland) Bill, we heard that the system is crowded and Graeme Pearson’s motion talks about streamlining this patchwork of organisations. When I hear that, I always respond that the fantastic mosaic of third sector organisations reflects the diversity of our rural and urban communities and enriches the quality of the support given to families across Scotland.
“Given the excellent work that is being done by our victim support organisations in Scotland”—[Official Report, 19 June 2013; c 21319.]
it would be an unnecessary extra level of expensive bureaucracy using resources that could be better spent. I am quite happy where we are.
In conclusion, let me be controversial. Apathy and a lack of feeling, emotion and interest is recognised by many as the most common reason why someone would commit the act of ending the life of another human being. It is that apathy that makes us stand today to speak up for the people who have experienced the death of a family member through murder and culpable homicide. We empathise with the victims and their family members because it could happen to us all.
My last thought is for the other family—the family that will suffer because one member of that family has committed such a crime. As a society, we need to reflect on this: we do not choose what members of our family do and we are likely to suffer the consequences of whatever has happened.
I add my thanks to Graeme Pearson for securing today’s debate on a very difficult, but important, subject. I, too, praise the work of the Moira Fund and Petal Support. The support that those organisations give to people affected by murder and culpable homicide is vital and should be supported.
Today I highlight just two of several cases that I have been involved in, to explain why the support from those two organisations is so important and why, in Scotland, we need a dedicated victim support homicide service that provides comprehensive support, not just in the immediate aftermath of a particular crime, but throughout the time that a victim’s family is engaged with the justice system.
In 2008, my constituent Giselle Ross waved goodbye to her two sons, six-year-old Paul and two-year-old Jay, as her former husband Ashok Kalyanjee took the boys to visit their grandmother. Ashok later took the boys to the Campsie Fells to a spot that he knew their mother loved. Once there, he put them in his car and stabbed them repeatedly. One of the boys witnessed what happened to his brother before being attacked himself. Kalyanjee then telephoned Giselle and taunted her about the boys, before setting fire to his car with him and the two boys inside. He was found alive by police but his sons were dead.
Kalyanjee was examined by three psychiatrists and found to be sane and fit to plead. He eventually pled guilty. In delivering his verdict, Lord Brailsford apologised in court to the Ross family for the protracted process and the requirement to obtain so many reports before a verdict could be arrived at. It had taken some eight months to get to the point of conviction.
Of course, that was not the end of the matter—as though there ever could be an end for Giselle Ross—because Kalyanjee then had his lawyers ask for a review of his conviction on the ground of his mental state at the time of the incident. That application was refused in early 2012, but a further application for review was submitted later that year, and this time it was granted. After a number of harrowing court hearings, Kalyanjee’s bid to have his conviction quashed was rejected in May 2014.
The case did not end with the conviction of Ashok Kalyanjee; it continued for another five years while he used the justice system to argue his case, as he was entitled to do. However, one could be forgiven for thinking that he simply wanted to continue his vindictive campaign against his former wife, Giselle. The question is, what support was available to Giselle during all that time? The answer is, very little, and she is not alone in that.
I want to consider another, very different case in which it seems to me that the system could have done more to support a family. One evening, my constituent Charles Howe took his wife and young son out for a drive. Out of the blue, another driver swerved across the road and crashed head on into Mr Howe’s car. Mr Howe suffered facial injuries and a shattered knee, and his nine-year-old son had a broken arm and facial cuts. Mrs Howe, who was nine months pregnant, died of her injuries, as did her unborn son. The driver of the other vehicle—Goldie—suffered some injuries, but ran away from the scene and evaded arrest for some six months. Because of the illness of a witness, Goldie pled guilty to failing to report an accident and driving without insurance while disqualified, and was admonished on a charge of dangerous driving.
I do not intend to rail against those sentences or charges, although there is much to rail about; rather, I want to highlight an aspect of that case that has added to Mr Howe’s concerns in the 20 years since the deaths of his wife and son. His son, who was to be named Dylan, was recorded as having been stillborn in spite of the fact that he died at nine months gestation, probably hours away from his natural birth, because of the incident that his family was involved in. It is fair to say that it has tortured Mr Howe in the 20 years since that his son did not have the recognition in law that Mr Howe feels that he should have had and that his birth and, most important, his death are summed up in the word “stillborn”. Could the minister consider that matter?
Surely we owe people such as Giselle Ross and Charles Howe more support than they currently get. If there are systems in other places that work better than ours, we should surely be brave enough to acknowledge that and follow their example.
I, too, am very pleased to participate in this members’ business debate, and I, too, thank Graeme Pearson for securing parliamentary time for such an important and worthwhile topic.
Crime, from antisocial behaviour and housebreaking to the unimaginable horrors of child abuse, affects many thousands of families across Scotland each year. With the loss of a loved one by another’s hand, it exacts a tragic toll.
In 2014-15, 59 homicides were recorded. That means that 59 families suffered the trauma of bereavement with the added complexity and emotional difficulty of dealing with the criminal justice system, often for the first time. The work of organisations such as Victim Support Scotland is immeasurable and invaluable in that regard. They offer emotional support and impartially help families to understand and cope with a wide range of emotions at a fraught and especially overwhelming time. Such situations are compounded by the common but devastating trend in homicides—that most victims are killed by someone whom they know. The most recent figures show that, last year, 49 per cent of male victims were killed by an acquaintance and 43 per cent of female victims were killed by their partner.
For bereaved families, such betrayal is almost impossible to understand, so it is vital that they are supported in their grief. I think that we all agree that Patricia Ferguson spoke very movingly of families who find themselves in that awful position. Charities such as the Moira Fund and Victim Support Scotland are to be commended for the help that they provide. Petal—people experiencing trauma and loss—to which Graeme Pearson referred, also carries out excellent work. It harnesses the services of volunteers, sessional counsellors, holistic therapists and psychotherapists to provide free support, advice and counselling to those who need it most.
Without doubt, families that are affected by homicide also need practical support, guidance and navigation through the system. From the moment when a homicide is reported, to the point of conviction and beyond, as Patricia Ferguson strikingly illustrated, they come into contact with a number of official agencies—Police Scotland, the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service, the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service, the Scottish Prison Service, the Parole Board for Scotland and the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority. They will also have to identify the body of the deceased, liaise with the procurator fiscal about the timing of the funeral arrangements—which may be delayed significantly if a suspect is not arrested expeditiously—and potentially co-ordinate with the police about the victim’s personal possessions, because they may be used as forensic evidence.
Families may also be exposed to the media; the media may follow the circumstances of the death and they may follow any subsequent court case. Media attention can mean intrusive and often unwelcome attention as the bereaved try to go about their day-to-day business. It can be very distressing, especially as family members may not be aware that anything that they say could also be prejudicial to an ensuing court case. All that can be intimidating and overwhelming.
The Scottish Government has prepared a very helpful document for bereaved families, which is to be commended, but it is a lengthy document and it is challenging to digest.
I agree with Graeme Pearson that there is a distinct risk of families being passed from one organisation to another leading to gaps and inconsistencies in provision. There would be merit in replicating the homicide service that is operated by Victim Support in England and Wales. It helps families not just to navigate the criminal justice system but helps by providing much-needed emotional support and practical services. When I looked at its website just a moment ago, it had links to—if I counted correctly—70 other specialist organisations.
I again thank Graeme Pearson for bringing Parliament’s attention to a very important issue. I urge the Scottish Government to look carefully at the homicide service that is available in England and Wales. We should seriously consider adopting that scheme, if it is practicable to do so.
I also congratulate Graeme Pearson on securing the debate. I add my support and praise for the list of organisations that he referred to in both his motion and his introductory remarks.
Graeme Pearson has mentioned the 887 victims over a period. I accept that culpable homicide and murder are terrible crimes; however, I welcome the fact that Scottish Government crime and justice statistics for 2014-15 show that between 2013-14 and 2014-15, there was a decrease—albeit by only one—from 60 such crimes to the 59 that Annabel Goldie referred to. That 59 is the lowest number of recorded homicide cases for a single 12-month period since 1976. However, it still means 59 grieving families and loved ones, which is 59 too many. Patricia Ferguson spoke movingly of the impacts on families. The crimes and the effects they have on people are devastating, so provision of services for families who are affected ought to be a high priority. I appreciate fully the point that Graeme Pearson made in his motion on one-to-one support for families who are coming to terms with the loss of a loved one in such tragic circumstances. For anyone who has not suffered such bereavement, the thought of having to go through the process is unimaginable.
The services that are provided by the likes of Petal and the Moira Fund are truly invaluable. We must not lose sight of the hard work that people in those organisations, and in organisations such as Victim Support Scotland, carry out every single day.
It is fitting that the debate is taking place immediately after victims’ week 2016, at the beginning of which the Minister for Community Safety and Legal Affairs—who is sitting in front of me—unveiled the “Victims’ Code for Scotland” . As he did so, he said that
“Anyone who has been a victim of crime should have confidence that they will receive the right support and advice through the criminal justice process”.
I sincerely hope that publication of the code and those words go some way towards ensuring that that is the case. However, I recognise that the code is by no means a magic bullet.
It is important that support organisations work together, where appropriate, to provide the support that victims and their families require. I sincerely hope that that would not result in, as Mr Pearson’s motion describes it, people being “passed” around organisations.
I recognise that a significant amount of work to provide the support that families need at such a time takes place behind the scenes at third sector organisations. Not the least of that support is provided by Victim Support Scotland, which is the largest organisation in Scotland providing support and information services to victims and witnesses of crime, through its community-based victim services and court-based witness services. Every year its services support about 200,000 people who are affected by crime. However, I acknowledge its calls for the development of a national support service to provide an enhanced personal response to families and loved ones who are bereaved by murder and culpable homicide. The effectiveness of the approach down south cannot be ignored, so I join others in calling on the Government to give some consideration to the lessons that can be learned from that approach.
Notwithstanding that, collaboration, communication and cohesion between existing organisations are vital. The Moira Fund, which has been referred to and which was created after the tragic murder of Moira Jones, is an extremely good example of a charity that provides grants to individuals who are referred through official organisations such as the police. I pay homage to the charities that care for families who have lost loved ones through homicide. The fact that the Moira Fund is backed by patrons such as the Rt Hon Elish Angiolini—who, as the then Lord Advocate of Scotland, led the prosecution at the trial of Moira’s killer—is an indication of its importance.
Once again, I thank Graeme Pearson for bringing the debate to Parliament. I hope that the minister will respond to points that have been made.
I thank Graeme Pearson for raising this important issue. I had guessed—correctly, as it turns out—that Mr Pearson’s speech would be his final one. I say with sincerity that I have genuinely enjoyed debates with him in the past. He has been an honourable member of the Parliament and has been a great credit to his party and the people whom he has served in South Scotland. I believe that it might also be my last opportunity to engage with Miss Goldie. Whatever our political differences, she has been a tremendous asset to the Parliament and is well respected across the chamber. I look forward to hearing all sorts of good things about both members as they leave Parliament.
We recognise the need for victims of crime to have access to the right information and support, and the need to improve the experience of people who pass through the criminal justice system. We have heard eloquently from members around the chamber—especially Patricia Ferguson, who told us about emotional cases with which she has had to deal in her constituency—about the need for information and support, the need to improve the experience and the need to have throughcare throughout the justice system and not only at the point of prosecution. As Christian Allard stated, we have recently passed legislation—in particular, the Victims and Witnesses (Scotland) Act 2014 and the Victims’ Rights (Scotland) Regulations 2015—in an attempt to improve the support that is provided by the various organisations in our justice system.
We accept that it can be traumatic for victims and their families to be passed between criminal justice agencies without receiving any information on how the justice system works. That is why we have introduced standards of service to ensure that victims know what to expect from each agency—not only Police Scotland and the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service, but the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service. We have encouraged criminal justice agencies to work closely with victim support organisations on creation of those standards, and to establish closer working relationships in order to ensure that the service that we provide is as joined up as possible. I hear clearly from Graeme Pearson and other members that we need to have a joined-up system and ensure that organisations collaborate, as Rod Campbell said.
We have introduced new rights to information so that victims can find out exactly what is happening with their cases. Those new measures provide additional support for victims and put their interests at the heart of improvements to our justice system. The legislative changes help us to comply with the European Union victims’ rights directive, which helps to ensure that victims of crime can have the right kind of help, information and support wherever they are in the EU.
However, we recognise that victims may not even be aware of their rights or of what support is available to them. That is why on EU victims day we published the first “Victims’ Code for Scotland”. We appreciate that it is the first code and that it will evolve over time. We are specifically considering trying to make a child-friendly version of the code because the way that it is worded is mainly aimed at adults. There is a clear need to work with Children 1st and other organisations to ensure that there is a child-friendly version of the document. However, in simple, straightforward language, the code provides victims with information about their rights, who can help, and where to go for more information. The code can be easily accessed online, and it is available from criminal justice agencies. Since 22 February it has been available online in a variety of languages—Polish, Mandarin and Urdu to name but a few. I am pleased to say that we are currently developing easy-read and child-friendly versions of the code.
The code will be made available to victims of crime when they come into contact with the police or other criminal justice agencies. It is intended to signpost victims to the help and support that they may need. We developed the code in discussion with agencies including the police, the courts and the Crown Office, and with victims groups including Victim Support Scotland, Scottish Women’s Aid and Rape Crisis Scotland. We will continue to consult those organisations as the code is made available more widely in order that we ensure that it is providing the information that victims require.
We acknowledge the considerable support that is currently available from the police through family liaison officers—FLOs. Graeme Pearson referred to them first, I think, and he will have direct experience of working with them. Support is also available from the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service’s victim information and advice—VIA—service and from victim support organisations.
I recognise the point that was made by Graeme Pearson and other members that it appears that there are a lot of organisations. There is obviously a risk of people being passed from pillar to post, or feeling as though they are, so we have to manage that carefully.
At present, Police Scotland appoints family liaison officers when a serious crime has been committed and the police determine that an FLO would be beneficial to the family, which is an important point. FLOs contact victims or bereaved relatives during the early stages of the police investigation or very soon after the death, and are there to provide a link between the family and the senior investigating officer and inquiry team. The FLO identifies additional support for the family and provides practical assistance including managing media interest in the case, which can sometimes be intense, as members are aware. FLOs are also responsible for offering guidance on the investigation process to the family, and for providing advice and guidance throughout the police investigation.
FLOs liaise closely with the victim information and advice service at the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service from very early on in the investigation, before handing the liaison role over to VIA if the investigation moves to prosecution. VIA, in turn, provides victims of crime with information about the criminal justice system, it provides assistance in cases in which a victim appears to be vulnerable, and it helps victims to get in touch with organisations that can offer the practical help and support to which members have been referring.
We recognise the importance of supporting victims of crime, which is why the Scottish Government provides funding of just over £4 million per year to victim support organisations.
We believe that support for people who have been bereaved by murder—which is why we are here today—is vital. This is why we provide grant funding to Petal, which offers specialist support, counselling services and practical advice relating to the criminal justice system and other matters.
The 2014 act is part of a larger piece of on-going work to further improve the experience of, and increase support for, victims of crime in the justice system. I encourage individuals and agencies to seek continually new means of supporting victims of crime, and to be continually identifying where improvements can be made to existing provision. That is certainly my view. I assure members that that will continue to be the case beyond implementation of the legislation.
As members have pointed out, in its 2015 to 2019 manifesto, Victim Support Scotland called for development of a national support service to provide an enhanced personal response to families and loved ones who have been bereaved by murder. I hear the sentiment that is being expressed across the chamber, which is that that is something that members, regardless of party, wish to happen.
I very much welcome the commitment of Victim Support Scotland to improving support, but it is vital that we avoid duplication of services and that we ensure that resources are focused on helping those who are in need. For example, Petal already provides specialist support for bereaved families, and more general support is extensively available across Scotland, particularly through Victim Support Scotland and other organisations that have been mentioned this afternoon. For that reason, we have encouraged Victim Support Scotland and Petal to consider how they might work more closely together to support families in such cases.
I acknowledge the very good work that is going on in England. It certainly has some attraction to it. However, we need to design a system that will work within the landscape here, while trying to avoid duplication. It would not necessarily be a straight copy. We are open to further discussion on the topic and we recognise that we need to be fully aware of the needs of those who have suffered bereavement by murder or suicide, and that we need to support them appropriately.
The concerns that have been raised by Graeme Pearson today over, for example, victims feeling that they have to explain things again and again as they are passed from one justice agency to the next, are ones that I recognise. They point to a need to understand better the requirements of victims. We need justice and victim support organisations to work together and to deliver a joined-up service.
Of course, legislation is not the end of the process; it is just the beginning. There is a constant process of improvement. Implementation will need to continue, and we will work in collaboration with our partners in the criminal justice system and the third sector to ensure that the provisions are implemented effectively. We will also continue to work to identify improvements that can be made on a non-legislative basis.
For too long, victims have been treated and made to feel like bystanders in the criminal justice system. Our recent changes will mean more consideration being given to the rights and needs of victims and witnesses of crime. It is my hope—one that is, I am sure, shared across the chamber—that the recent changes will improve people’s experience of the system to which they turn to see justice served.
I thank Graeme Pearson again. I meant with all sincerity the points that I made earlier—he has been an excellent member. I wish him and Annabel Goldie great success in the future. I hope that he can take some comfort from the fact that we are considering the important issues that he raised today, and that he will take some satisfaction from any progress that is made as a result.